When it comes to favorite books of the Bible, it’s an unusual choice, but Nehemiah has always been my husband’s favorite.
Perhaps it’s the fact that he works in construction and much of Nehemiah’s thirteen chapters center around the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. The book talks about tools and processes, each section of the wall going back up one at a time. Or maybe it’s because of the concerted team effort, and Nehemiah’s leadership role in gathering everyone to the task. Everyone had to do their part, or the job wouldn’t get done.
Regardless of the reasons, my husband’s love of Nehemiah’s story has become my own. I, too, have spent a good deal of time reading and reflecting on the story of this man who felt burdened to rebuild what had been broken (2 Kings 25).
But what captures my heart most of all, especially in this hard season in which we find ourselves, is Nehemiah’s prayerful posture: humility.
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Nehemiah 1:5-7 (NIV)
We have acted wickedly.
We have not obeyed.
What fascinates me most about Nehemiah’s confessions is that decades separated him from the destruction of Jerusalem. Although the Babylonians tore down the walls, God made it clear that the battle and Israel’s subsequent enslavement was a direct result of their disobedience to God and their breaking of His covenant. They had rebelled against God. Thus, God gave them over to their enemies. But when we catch up with Nehemiah and his prayer in Nehemiah 1, more than sixty years have passed. The broken walls weren’t Nehemiah’s fault. He didn’t take a club to stone. And he didn’t set fire to the walls. He could’ve prayed, “They acted wickedly” and “They did not obey.”
Instead, he wept. He mourned. He fell to his knees, and he took personal responsibility. Why? Why did Nehemiah confess something he didn’t directly do? Why did he weep and repent when he lived far from the Holy City?
I think it was because he understood the value of communal confession, of looking at injustice and wrong and seeing his complicity. And he knew he too was part of the collective community of humanity that had disobeyed the One True God. And before they tried to rebuild what was broken, they needed to kneel before the Healer.
In our quest to appear more righteous than we are, we often neglect the healing ointment of humility. It’s easier to defend ourselves, assign blame, and prop our so-called righteousness against other’s sinfulness.
“It’s not my fault,” we argue. “So why should I have to clean up the mess?”
But Nehemiah understood that the only right posture to take before a Holy God was one of bowing down — admitting weakness, confessing sin, admitting the innate depravity of our humanity, and calling on the only One big enough to heal.
Whereas blame-shifting destroys, humility builds and, in many cases, heals. We live in interesting times, sisters. The fear and unknowns and racial tensions and injustices have left our cities with broken walls. The destruction is apparent. We can not ignore it.
And yet, blaming won’t help us with rebuilding. Instead, I pray we heed Nehemiah’s wisdom and see his posture as a means of healing our day.
Because there is only One who can help us shore up our walls. But we must first admit we need Him.
Father, I confess: we have acted wickedly. We have not obeyed. Instead of loving and forgiving as You have loved and forgiven, we have resisted and rebelled. So today we kneel in Your presence, admitting our need. We have neither the wisdom nor the strength to rebuild what has been broken, but You do. Give us mercy and grace for this nation and people whom You love.
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